According to the North Carolina Cooperative Extension bulletin Celebrate with Safe Salsa, salsa is one of the most popular condiments used in the United States. When you go to a Mexican restaurant, they even bring it to your table with chips while you are waiting for your order. Besides corn chips, you can use it on so many things, such as potatoes, eggs, and meat. We like to add salsa to our homegrown cowpeas.
Often based on tomatoes, peppers, and onions, salsa can vary due to the type of tomatoes and peppers used. Paste tomatoes will give you a thicker product, while the type of peppers chosen can result in salsa ranging in taste from very mild to very hot. There are other ingredients you can add to change the flavor. When making your own salsa you can decide just how smooth or chunky it is by how finely you chop the vegetables.
I am all for experimenting in the kitchen and when you are making salsa to eat fresh, experiment all you want — store the extra in the fridge, and use it within a week. However, if you are going to be canning salsa, there are some guidelines you need to follow to make sure you have a safe product.
These guidelines apply to canning salsa in a water bath canner. Water bath canning is safe for foods that are high in acid. Pressure canning is for low-acid foods. If you were to combine vegetables, with the resulting combination having a pH greater than 4.6, you would need to use a pressure canner and choose the length of time for processing according to the vegetable in the mixture that requires the longest time.
As long as you follow a tested recipe, you will be good. The canning books are loaded with safe recipes and you will find some in Celebrate with Safe Salsa. Vinegar and lemon juice help bring the acidity to the level needed to use a water bath. The vinegar used needs to be at least 5% acidity (this is important).
Homemade vinegar and freshly squeezed lemon juice are not recommended because the level of acidity is not known. Unless, of course, you have a way of checking to make sure it is at least 5%. Bottled lemon juice tends to be more acidic than vinegar. You can substitute lemon juice for vinegar, but you can’t substitute vinegar for lemon juice.
Salsa is one of the easiest things to make from your garden harvest. Although I tend not to can as much as I used to, preferring to use fermentation and drying as my methods of preservation, as well as growing crops that store well on their own, I like having canned salsa as a convenience food. Most everything I need comes from the garden, except for the vinegar and salt. You can learn more about my salsa making at Homeplace Earth.
If you are into eating as close to home as you can, making salsa from ingredients from your garden and your farmers market can increase the variety of dishes on your table. Get creative and use it to add some zing to what you already eat.
If you are serious about local eating, you might want to join the 10-Day Local Food Challenge and participate in the challenge coming up in October. It is a fun way to gauge how far you have come on your local food journey. With that in mind, make some salsa from ingredients as local as you can find them and enjoy the results!
Cindy Conner is the author of Seed Libraries and Grow a Sustainable Diet (available in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store) and has produced DVDs about garden planning and managing cover crops with hand tools. Learn more about what she is up to at Homeplace Earth.
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